My Secret Life in Online Mom Forums

secret life online secret life online

Don’t click it, Chaunie. I hover over the link and consider just shutting my laptop and moving onto something else, something productive. This is not going to help you. You know better than this. 

But my fingers continue on with a life of their own, and into the online forum I dive.

Vanessa8574 has posted: “I’m on Day 28 of my cycle and getting negative pregnancy tests—could I still be pregnant?”

Several posters have leapt in with their own stories in response, and I read hungrily.  Hope0417 writes “Yes! I didn’t get a positive until a week after my period was due!” “I’m 12 weeks pregnant and my tests still show negative,” Jacesmommy9 adds. There are dozens of replies, all encouraging, all supporting, all reassuring her.

I devour each and every word of every comment, because these stories are my own. After back-to-back miscarriages, I’ve become a woman obsessed with trying to conceive. And now, almost against my will, I find myself knee-deep in a world I never thought I’d be a part of: the online forums of the trying-to-conceive (TTC) community.

Like a lot of women, I stumbled into the world of TTC forums quite by accident. One simple Google search on “how early is too early to take a pregnancy test?” and mere minutes later, I was full-on immersed in a scene from which it’s been impossible to turn away.

Of course, deep down, I know these forums can’t give me what I really want, which is to magically have my lost babies back and to turn my repeated negative pregnancy tests positive. Deep down, I really am aware of this.

But, still, in this club where I’m faceless, I find comfort. I find women who offer reassurances when my period is late for the first time in my entire life but my tests are still negative (how can this be??), women who share the happy progress in the days and weeks after their own positive tests, and women who confess that they, too, have broken down and taken another test too early even though they knew better.  

Having been pregnant before, I’m well aware of the signs and symptoms of pregnancy. I also know, logically, that searching for answers online will not change what is happening or not happening in my body. But these forums are a place where I don’t have to hide that I do all the TTC “don’ts”: I stress, I test too early, I scrutinize the pee stick, I obsess. Here, I’m not judged — even for having had successful pregnancies before, which many of these women have not (and may never.) Here, a person’s pain is not discounted based on how many children she’s had already. Here, people are welcomed, no matter what.

It doesn’t take long for the forums to become something of an addiction (I flit among a few popular ones, each with its own culture and vibe). I follow the TTC journeys of other women, even when it means seeing my own worst fears confirmed as people share their stories of heartbreak. I stay up until 2am, even when it means not seeing my husband, even when it means missing my work deadlines and snapping at my loved ones the next day because I am so tired and crabby. For while I’m just a lurker, then, eventually, a participant. My first post happens after I create an account solely so I can post my pregnancy test to see if anyone else can detect a second line I’ve convinced myself exists. (It doesn’t.)

The women of these forums get how exhausting it is to live in two different worlds: the world inside — where all I think about is babies and conceiving and cervical mucous — and the one I inhabit in the “real” world, where I pretend to be totally normal.

In the “real” world, I do things like smile and chuckle noncommittally when someone asks if I’ll be having more babies. “You never know!” I toss out lightly, even while my mind is flashing back to the time I bled all over the new bathroom rug while miscarrying and how there is still a stain there that I will never get out and how it hurts me to see it every time I brush my teeth.

In the “real” world, I do things like congratulate the woman who announces the pregnancy that I felt cheated out of and ask her how she is feeling and keep my smile plastered on while she complains about her swollen ankles.

In the “real” world, I do things like go to barbecues and attend parties and plan date nights and look like a person who, in passing a baby at the grocery store, does not feel an overwhelming wave of sadness so great she sometimes has to stop her cart and just hold on.

But inside?

Inside, I feel ugly and bitter and obsessed. Inside, I do things like order pregnancy tests in bulk and hide them from my husband and analyze my body constantly, searching for signs that aren’t there, even going so far as to gag dramatically with morning sickness that doesn’t exist. Month after month I do this, and then, when the blood comes, I learn to go numb.

Inside, I always felt alone.

Until I realized there are more of me. I realized that an entire world exists right beneath the surface of everyday life, a world that’s always active and awake, flickering on the screen, teeming with women who “get it” and can give me the comfort I’m seeking. They understand that every twinge in my abdomen is a possible implantation cramp, every breath the possibility and hope for a wave of nausea. Even my dreams are consumed with getting pregnant. Did you know that vivid dreams are also an early sign of pregnancy? They are.

These women are the ones who will say “I definitely see the start of a line!” when I post my pregnancy test (btw it’s called “tweaking” when you find ways to reveal lines that are practically — or totally —  invisible to the naked eye.) They cheer me on with phrases like “Hope this one sticks!” and “Sprinkling baby dust your way!” And, like me, these women are hiding out and scrolling ‘til the wee hours so they can check whether a fellow hopeful got her BFP, the acronym for “Big Fat Positive.”

I tell myself that I can quit these forums  anytime; I tell myself I’m not really one of them; I tell myself to “just relax” and I will get pregnant. But then, when my period comes, this time cruelly 4 days late, I turn to my on-screen world to share my news and get flooded with messages. “Next month is your month!!” and “Aw hon, I’m sorry, I know the feeling XO.”

Because, in the end, the women in these forums have given me something that I haven’t been able to find anywhere else. They have given me hope.

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Chaunie Brusie is an OB nurse turned writer and author of several books. Her work has been published everywhere from The New York Times to The Washington Post to Parents magazine. After two miscarriages, Chaunie founded The Stay Strong Mom, a community of gift boxes for loss mothers, with proceeds donated to families who need help paying their medical bills after a pregnancy loss.